Cis-regulation of the amphioxus engrailed gene: Insights into evolution of a muscle-specific enhancer

Beaster-Jones, L, Schubert M, Holland LZ.  2007.  Cis-regulation of the amphioxus engrailed gene: Insights into evolution of a muscle-specific enhancer. Mechanisms of Development. 124:532-542.

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amphioxus, ascidian embryos, Branchiostoma, cephalochordate amphioxus, chordate amphioxus, Ciona, ciona-intestinalis, Cis-regulation, conserved, drosophila, embryonic expression, engrailed, enhancer, lancelet, mandibular arch, mid-hindbrain, muscle evolution, nervous-system, non-coding DNA, vertebrate neural crest


To gain insights into the relation between evolution of cis-regulatory DNA and evolution of gene function, we identified tissue-specific enhancers of the engrailed gene of the basal chordate amphioxus (Branch iostoma floridae) and compared their ability to direct expression in both amphioxus and its nearest chordate relative, the tunicate Ciona intestinalis. In amphioxus embryos, the native engrailed gene is expressed in three domains - the eight most anterior somites, a few cells in the central nervous system (CNS) and a few ectodermal cells. In contrast, in C. intestinalis, in which muscle development is highly divergent, engrailed expression is limited to the CNS. To characterize the tissue-specific enhancers of amphioxus engrailed, we first showed that 7.8 kb of upstream DNA of amphioxus engrailed directs expression to all three domains in amphioxus that express the native gene. We then identified the amphioxus engrailed muscle-specific enhancer as the 1.2 kb region of upstream DNA with the highest sequence identity to the mouse en-2 jaw muscle enhancer. This amphioxus enhancer directed expression to both the somites in amphioxus and to the larval muscles in C intestinalis. These results show that even though expression of the native engrailed has apparently been lost in developing C intestinalis muscles, they express the transcription factors necessary to activate transcription from the amphioxus engrailed enhancer, suggesting that gene networks may not be completely disrupted if an individual component is lost. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.